A significant portion of the population is faced with the prospect of growing old alone – that is, not having family or friends around for support in times of trouble or when independent living is no longer practical. Moreover, as the baby boomer generation continues to age, the number of people aging without a family will likely increase.
The prospect of aging alone can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. If you understand the challenges you may face and plan for them ahead of time, you may find that you can navigate this stage of life without fear or uncertainty.
What is an Elder Orphan?
“Elder orphan” is a term that has been coined to describe people who are growing old alone, without a support system of spouses, children, or other family members or caregivers. It is difficult to assess just how many people in the United States are in this situation because many physicians do not inquire about patients’ marital, familial, or social status. However, a 2016 study estimated 22% of the population 65 and older are at risk of becoming elder orphans.
The study calculated older people’s risk of becoming elder orphans based primarily on whether they were married or had children, since these are the relationships that typically take on responsibility for caring for an older adult. An increasing number of Americans aged 45 to 63 are single, and fewer people in this age group have children. This means that the number of people at risk of becoming elder orphans will rise.
Nevertheless, that study fails to tell the whole story. Not everyone with a spouse or adult children is safe from becoming an elder orphan, and not everyone who lacks these relationships is destined to become one. Adult children do not always live close enough to provide adequate support, or they may be estranged from older parents. One may find themselves aging alone following the death of a partner. On the other hand, people without partners or adult children may find other family caregivers in siblings or trusted friends who live nearby and therefore avoid becoming elder orphans.
What Challenges Do People Aging Alone Face?
Elder orphans growing old without a family face several significant challenges:
Health Problems: As you age, your risk for developing chronic health problems increases. These health conditions may affect your mobility and mental capacity, and may require more advanced medical care. This makes it more difficult for you to care for yourself.
Legal and Financial Affairs: There are significant financial and legal matters that can arise as you grow older. It can be difficult to find help with these if you have no children or close family members to assist.
Isolation and Loneliness: Isolation and loneliness are not the same things, but they can relate to one another. Loneliness is a subjective feeling of being alone, while isolation is the objective state of having minimal contact with others. Whether occurring separately or concurrently, isolation and loneliness put you at greater risk for cognitive decline and lack of emotional support.
What Can You Do to Prepare to Age Alone?
The difficulties involved with aging alone are significant but not insurmountable. The key is to recognize the challenges you may encounter and plan ahead of time to meet them. Here are some steps you can take early on:
Build a Support System: If you do not have close family members, you need to build a network of people you can rely on. Your old friends may be deceased or may not live nearby, but there are many opportunities for seniors to make new friends through volunteering, classes, clubs, and other community resources for older people.
Make Use of Technology: Many older people are intimidated by adopting smartphones and all the technological advances that come with them. However, some of these new or relatively new technologies can be very helpful to seniors. Communicating via phones and social media apps can keep you from becoming isolated by connecting you with virtual communities, while medical alert systems and monitoring devices allow you to access help in an emergency.
Get Your Paperwork in Order: For many people aging alone, one of the biggest concerns is what happens if they become incapacitated. You should express your wishes clearly in a living will and choose someone you trust as a health care proxy. This does not need to be a family member; in fact, it may be in your interest to choose a friend who understands your wishes and lives nearby.
Turn to the Professionals: If you don’t have a family member who can help you sort out legal and financial matters, hire a professional trained in handling them, such as an elder law attorney or accountant.
Consider Florida Senior Living Communities
One of the biggest concerns you may have when aging without a family is where you will live. An assisted living facility or other type of senior living community allows you to live among peers and access personal care and support when needed. Health professionals are available around the clock to provide medical care in case of an emergency.
Florida Senior Consulting offers hundreds of senior living choices in communities across Florida to meet the needs of every senior we serve. Between assisted living, independent living, memory care, adult day care, and other options, there are plenty of communities in Florida that are suited for your own personal preferences and needs.
This can be a very difficult landscape to navigate, and you should always engage the services of a professional to avoid the pitfalls and make the best decision possible the first time.
Interested in Getting Help or Support from the Professionals at Florida Senior Consulting?
We are a mission-driven company that believes deeply in purpose over profit. Our focus is helping every senior we encounter in the markets we serve to live their best life with the least amount of worry and the most support possible. We don’t charge anything to sit down, get to know you, get to know your situation, and help you plan the best path forward.